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Washington Football Team Institutes Social Justice Initiatives For Season Opener

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The Washington Football Team will wear special social justice patches and decals as a part of its "NFL Kickoff and Social Justice" theme for Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, marking another step the team has taken to address social justice issues.

Thirty-two players, three player development personnel and head coach Ron Rivera agreed to participate in the initiative. The decals will be featured on the back of helmets, while the patches will be on hats. Nearly all of the participants agreed to wear the decals or patches for the entire season.

Players and coaches chose between a phrase or a specific individuals. "Black Lives Matter" was the most common chosen phrase, but other players selected "It Takes All Of Us," "Stop Hate" and "End Racism."

Individuals honored include Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police officers while sleeping in her home in Louisville, and George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis during an altercation with local police.

In addition, players will have a No. 49 patch on the front of their jerseys all season long to honor the late Bobby Mitchell, who passed in April.

Mitchell was traded to Washington in 1962 and became the first Black athlete to play for the franchise. In seven seasons with the burgundy and gold, Mitchell made three consecutive Pro Bowls from 1962-64 and was a first-team All-Pro in 1962, when he led the NFL with 1,384 receiving yards. He still ranks in the top 10 in franchise history in receiving yards (6,492; fifth), touchdowns (49; sixth) and catches (393; eighth). Following a Hall of Fame playing career, Mitchell worked in the team's front office for more than four decades.

In June, Washington announced it was officially retiring Mitchell's jersey and renaming the lower level of FedExField in honor of him. 

"There is no one more deserving of these honors than the late Bobby Mitchell," Washington Football Team Owner Dan Snyder said in a press release. "Bobby was one of the most influential players not only in our team's history, but in the National Football League. He excelled on the field, in the front office and most importantly in his community where he had a tremendous impact on the lives of so many through his charitable efforts. He was one of the greatest men I have ever known."

As an organization, Washington has made a conscious effort to address social justice issues since June. It started the Black Engagement Network to strengthen its commitment to Black employees with professional development and career management. It instituted a town hall led by six members of the organization, including Jennifer King -- the first female African-American full-time coaching intern in league history -- who was a police officer before pursuing a coaching career.

"I am proud of everyone who is on the right side of this fight against social injustice," Rivera said. "I am eager to help in any way I can in making a difference."

Players have also stepped up to take action and address social injustice in the Washington Metropolitan Area. Dwayne Haskins Jr. attended a protest in front of the White House in response to Floyd's death. No. 2 overall pick Chase Young was featured in a call-to-action video alongside some of the NFL's top players.

"Their message was powerful and one that every fan of this league should support," Rivera said.

Haskins said he attended the protest because he wanted to "be part of the difference."

"It was my first protest ever, I never thought I'd ever be able to actually go to a protest especially in this day and age, so it was just crazy to be there," Haskins said. "[It was] just the energy and the atmosphere when you walk around people and how much you're supporting the cause."

On Aug. 27, Washington postponed its scrimmage at the stadium in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake in order to have an open dialogue about racial injustice. Rivera said in a statement that discussions will continue as Washington plans to make further progress in addressing racism and social injustice.

"We are all in this together. And as a team we will work to figure out ways that we can make a positive impact in our communities."

Washington's "NFL Kickoff and Social Justice" theme also included special events throughout the week, including a rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" by Howard University choir. Washington begins its 2020 season against the Eagles on Sunday afternoon.

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